All through the '80s and '90s, the Princeton men's basketball team played the best hoops in the Ivy League, getting national attention for its near-upsets of Georgetown and Arkansas in the NCAA tournament and cracking the Associated Press Top 25 rankings for three weeks in 1990 before falling on harder times in 1992 and 1993.
Now, it's the turn of the Tigers' playing partner, Pennsylvania. Riding a 15-game league winning streak and wins this year over Southern California, St. Joseph's, Washington and Georgia, the Quakers are the team of the moment--projected to go undefeated in Ivy League play and perhaps win a game come the tournament in March.
The bad news is that Harvard must play these two teams this weekend. Even worse, it must play them on the road.
The Crimson will travel to Philadelphia for a Friday night matchup against the Quakers (7-1 overall, 0-0 Ivy) in the Palestra, then cross the Delaware River for a chance at Princeton (6-5 overall, 0-0 Ivy) in the Jadwin Gym. Neither locale has been particularly friendly to the Crimson (5-5 overall, 1-0 Ivy).
By Ivy League standards, this team is exceptional. By national standards, it ain't bad either--the Quakers are a weekly vote-getter in the polls but has yet to crack the Top 25.
Pennsylvania opened the season with a 77-62 demolition of USC at Los Angeles, then followed with a three-point loss to basketball power Ohio State, 83-80 (at OSU). From then on, the Quakers have not lost a game while knocking off powerful squads like Washington (71-68) and Georgia (81-79), as well as blowouts against Haverford, Farleigh Dickenson and Lehigh.
The team is talented at every position, but particularly at guard and small forward. Junior forward Shawn Trice won the Ivy League's Player of the Week award for his efforts against Washington and Georgia, gathering 42 points and 15 rebounds in those two clutch victories, but the real star of the team is junior Jerome Allen, the 1993 Ivy League Co-Player of the Year. Allen leads the team in scoring (at 16.6 points per game) and nearly engineered an upset of Massachusetts in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1993. He also shoots a deadly 89 percent from the free-throw stripe and collects 5.5 rebounds per game, good for second on the team.
How good are they? A comparison: against Lehigh, a team which Harvard defeated in a thrilling 71-70 match, Pennsylvania shot just 43 percent but cruised to a 87-62 win.
Princeton is the aging tiger of the Ivy League. Princeton Coach Pete Carril is 43-9 against Harvard in his 26-year career and the Tiger are still top-ranked in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 53.5 points per game.
For Harvard, which needs to find a new way to score every time it comes down the court, the Tigers could be a challenge. Last year at the Jadwin Gym, Harvard scored just 39 points in an embarrassing 63-39 loss.
The Tigers are traditionally among the best three-point shooters in the nation (averaging upwards of 42 percent), but this year their skills have slumped. This year, Princeton is shooting just 35 percent from beyond the three-point line, sending the Tigers to their worst start in years.
But that doesn't mean the Tigers are pushovers, particularly in the Ivy League. For instance: Princeton defeated Boston University, 57-44. The Terriers went on to beat the Crimson, 62-76.